The Van Trump Report

Potato Chips Anniversary and the Great Potato Story

Last weekend America celebrated National Potato day and many historians will agree that today is the anniversary of the invention of the “potato chip”, which took place in 1853 at the Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake in New York thanks to chef George Crum and a disgruntled customer.

Interestingly the story really begins in France with the adoption of the potato into European cooking after the Spanish brought them back after explorations in the mid-1500s. I should mention, the French actually rejected them at first, referring to them as hog feed and believing that these tubers caused leprosy. The sentiment was so strong in fact that the French Parliament officially banned potatoes in 1748. But by a twist of fate for the potato, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French pharmacist who served as an army pharmacist during the Seven Years’ War was captured by the Prussians, imprisoned and forced to eat potatoes every day as his rations, a fact that would forever change the trajectory of the potato.

Parmentier’s prison experience was transformational as his “potato only” diet left him with no leprosy or other diseases. In fact, he found that potatoes were delicious and good for you. Thanks to his pioneering research and work, not only did the French government repeal the potato ban in 1772 but Parmentier would go on to win an award from the Academy of Besancon for research that proved potatoes were a great source of nutrition for people suffering from dysentery. With the French adopting the potato, cooking with it became fashionable.

Here at home, George “Crum” Speck is attributed with inventing the process of deep-frying potato slices to create what we know today as the chip. How it happened is interesting, as a disgruntled customer complained that his thick-cut French style potatoes were soggy, chewy, and undercooked, asking twice for the dish to be remade. Crum, in a mindset of I’ll show you, cut the slices as thin as he could, dropped them in the deep fryer and poured on the salt with the hopes the customer would hate them. Of course, things turned out differently as the customer loved the new creation. 

Crum, considered by some to be the first-ever “celebrity chef” in America would go on to open his own restaurant in 1860 down the road from Moons, and it didn’t take long before he was catering to a large and wealthy clientele that included the Vanderbilt’s, Jay Gould, and Henry Hilton. From what I understand, Crum brought his invention with him and would place the chips in baskets on all the tables while also marketing them in take-out boxes as “Original Saratoga Chip.” I’m told that wealthy families whose cooks had mastered the art of chip-making could buy a sterling silver Saratoga Chip Server at Tiffany for dishing them out with elegance. 

It turns out that Crum never patented or protected his invention, but upon his death in 1914, his obituary stated he was the originator of the Saratoga Chip. More than 150 years later Crum’s accidental delicacy has gone on to even greater fame with Americans consuming +1.5 billion pounds of potato chips every year. And yes, Saratoga Chips are still sold under that name today. (Source: History, Wiki, FarmersAlmanac)

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